Monday, December 15, 2014

Revisiting My ‘Hopes for WWDC 2014′


Back in May, during the lead up to Apple’s annual developer conference, I wrote an article detailing my ‘Hopes for WWDC 2014.’ During the conference there were a lot of announcements for developers1 but no major hardware product announcements, leaving me to wonder if my hopes were simply too optimistic:

  • an iterative iPhone 6 design with better battery life and a better camera
  • an iMac with retina display
  • an update to Aperture, Apple’s professional photo management tool
  • a mobile payment platform
  • premium wireless in-ear headphones
  • a wireless keyboard with numeric keypad

As it turns out, naming the article simply ‘Hopes for 2014′ would have been more appropriate. Despite the lack of announcements at WWDC, Apple spent the rest of the year addressing most of the items on my list.


At a press event in September, Apple announced the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. I was hoping for an iterative design, and I think Apple certainly delivered that. Having used an iPhone 6 for several months now, I’m really enjoying the curved edges and I’ve acclimatized to the larger screen2. I was also hoping for improved battery life and a better camera, both of which Apple delivered3.


At a press event in October, Apple announced the iMac with Retina 5K display. This is the computer I’ve been waiting years for, and Apple actually exceeded my hopes with this announcement. The retina screen – with over 14 million pixels – is beautiful not just for viewing photographs, but for reading email and browsing the web too. One of the biggest benefits of a high resolution screen is the improved rendering of inky, crisp, text. Combined with a solid state hard drive and a bunch of RAM, my new iMac with Retina 5K display puts my five year old iMac to absolute shame – I’m almost embarrassed for it.


In May I argued that Aperture hadn’t received a major update since 2010 and that it needed some major features in order to leap-frog the competition. I should have been careful what I wished for, as Apple soon thereafter announced that “there will be no new development of Aperture.”

The announcement was bittersweet. I truly believe that Aperture is a better photo management tool than Adobe Lightroom, but as the iPod and eventually the iPhone gained in popularity, Apple’s priorities shifted away from professional tools to the consumer, leaving Aperture to die a slow painful death. To sunset Aperture is an understandable decision, but unfortunate for those of us that spent countless hours editing photos using its proprietary adjustments – work that can’t be transferred non-destructively to Lightroom.

The silver lining in all this is that Apple is developing new photo management software for the Mac – called Photos – which I’m assuming will be developed in conjunction with its iOS equivalent. It should therefore benefit from a larger team and more attention going forward. I don’t expect Photos version 1.0 to have the same features as Aperture, but I’m optimistic that over time it will grow into something equally powerful. Photos will support extensions, so there’s the possibility that features overlooked by Apple can be implemented by developers.

I will continue to use Aperture until Photos is released, and possibly long thereafter. Rather than hoping for an Aperture upgrade, I’m now relegated to a hope that whatever replaces it will be good enough to avoid a painful switch to Lightroom.

Mobile payments

In May I wrote:

I also hope Apple unveils a mobile payment platform at WWDC. The typical retail purchasing experience is inefficient (paying at the register takes a lot of time) and potentially insecure (fraud and theft are pervasive). Despite many attempts by others, no company has yet cracked mobile payments. Consumers typically need a particular device, a particular app, or a particular prepaid account and then need to search out vendors that support the same.

In September, alongside new iPhones, Apple introduced their version of mobile payments: Apple Pay. In true Apple fashion, they found an elegant solution for an unwieldy and fragmented industry. Apple Pay has the potential to do for retail purchases what iTunes did for music. I haven’t tried Apple Pay myself but reviews are generally positive and I look forward to Apple Pay expanding to additional countries – namely Canada – soon.

One area where I think Apple Pay can expand is receipts. I use financial software to keep a budget and track purchases, which involves some manual entry of paper receipts. It is time consuming, error-prone, and creates a lot of waste. If each Apple Pay transaction generated a digital receipt in an open standard that could then interface with financial software, it would go a long way to simplifying my life.

Wireless EarPods

I like Apple’s EarPods, but the wire connecting them to things is very limiting. The wire is always getting tangled, caught on clothing, or fraying over time. Wireless headphones already exist, and some companies are developing small in-ear versions. I think Apple, as an expert in energy-efficient mobile devices and industrial design, is uniquely positioned to develop the most compelling product in this space.

While there haven’t been any announcements of such a product, Apple CEO Tim Cook referenced bluetooth headsets in a recent interview with Charlie Rose:

[Apple Watch] requires an iPhone, because they’ve been designed to work together. However, if you go for a run, and you don’t want to carry your iPhone, music is also on your watch. So with a Bluetooth headset, you can run and listen to your music without your iPhone.

Apple is obviously aware of the huge potential for wireless headphones, especially given their pending entry into wearables. The Apple Watch is scheduled to go on sale in early 2015, so perhaps we’ll have to wait a few more months for wireless EarPods?

Wireless keyboard with numeric keypad

When configuring my new iMac, I was given two keyboard options: the Apple Wireless Keyboard or the Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad. The wireless keyboard layout mimics that of a Macbook with smaller arrow keys, no home/end or page up/down keys, and no numeric keypad. As someone that spends a lot of time working on spreadsheets, I can’t imagine using a keyboard without a numeric keypad and I’m therefore stuck with the wired keyboard.

For all the emphasis Apple places on design and simplicity, I don’t understand why they haven’t released a wireless keyboard with numeric keypad. Looking at that wire as it snakes across my desk is a constant annoyance4. Of all my ‘Hopes for 2014′ this one seems the least likely to ever get any attention. If anything, Apple may discontinue the keyboard with numeric keyboard altogether.

While WWDC 2014 was a bust for my wish list, the remainder of the year proved pretty successful: I got the iPhone update I wanted, the iMac of my dreams, rebooted Mac photo management software (although certainly not in the form I was expecting), Apple Pay, and even a sense that wireless EarPods could be around the corner. Now if only the finance and accounting teams at Apple would start pulling some strings for those of us that like the numeric keypad but hate wires. Here’s hoping for 2015.

  1. iCloud Drive, Continuity, HealthKit, Swift, Extensions, and HomeKit to name a few. 
  2. I transitioned from the 3.5″ screen of the iPhone 4 to the 4.7″ screen of the iPhone 6. 
  3. For internet browsing on Wi-Fi, the iPhone 6 provides an additional hour of battery life compared to the iPhone 5s while the iPhone 6 Plus provides two additional hours. Source: 
  4. To add insult to injury, the material used in the keyboard wire is very rigid. Different parts of the wire slant in different directions and the wire refuses any attempts at being ‘trained,’ much like my wavy, often uncontrollable hair5
  5. Also a constant annoyance. 
Monday, December 8, 2014

Music Monday – James Hersey’s ‘Coming Over’ (Filous Remix)


I love randomly stumbling across new music. I was on YouTube searching for a different artist and decided to click on one of the related videos and found this gem of a track – Coming Over by James Hersey (Filous Remix).

James is an electro-pop singer-songwriter, producer, and recording artist from Vienna, Austria. Filous is a 17 year old music producer from Austria. The track is brilliant on its own but this remix gives it a nice upbeat punch, which makes it even harder not to keep it on repeat.

My only complaint is that I can’t buy any of James’ music on iTunes, well at least in the Canadian store. This guy has a seriously unique vibe and I can’t wait to see where his music takes him.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Hockey Night in Canada: How CBC lost it all   


David Shoalts, writing for The Globe and Mail:

The victors strode into the CBC’s Toronto headquarters at 250 Front St. West on June 1 in an especially humiliating denouement for what was left of the public network’s sports department and its version of Hockey Night In Canada.

Not only had Rogers Communications Inc. wrenched the Canadian national broadcast rights to NHL games from the CBC’s grasp with a stunning $5.2-billion payout over the next 12 years, but the Visigoths were actually at the gate. Part of the ensuing deal, in which those in charge of the CBC meekly handed over the company’s airwaves for free, was that the Rogers people connected to Hockey Night, along with some people hired from rival TSN, would use the CBC’s studios and take over the show’s office space on the north side of the eighth floor – the plushest in the building thanks to the show’s status as the network’s biggest money spinner.

Quite a story. It’s hard to see how the CBC could have possibly struck a deal with the NHL when the competition was offering more than $12 per Canadian per year. It will be interesting to see if Rogers is able to monetize their new-found hockey monopoly.

(Via The Loop)

Jason Snell Reviews the iPad Air 2   


Jason Snell:

Yes, Apple has shaved 1.4 millimeters off the thickness of the original iPad Air, and roughly 33 grams off the weight. There’s a nice commercial where a laser beam cuts off part of that pencil from the original iPad Air commercial, because the iPad Air 2 is thinner than a pencil, you see.

Forget all that. Apple’s continual quest for thinness remains intact, but the biggest improvements on this device come courtesy of features any old-school computer nerd could love, namely fast chips and more RAM.

John Oliver’s Complicated Fun Connects for HBO   


David Carr, writing for The New York Times:

Yet here we are, at the end of Mr. Oliver’s first season with “Last Week Tonight” — he will return in February — and the show has been a smash, with strong ratings, a dedicated fan base and a series of clips on YouTube that have melted the Internet. He helped drive attention to the debate on net neutrality, and last week, President Obama urged the Federal Communications Commission to stand tall on that basic principle.

My only exposure to Last Week Tonight has been through the aforementioned YouTube clips, but from what little I’ve seen it looks like a brilliant show.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Shazam Effect   


Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic:

Shazam became available in 2002. (In the days before smartphones, users would dial a number, play the song through their phones, and then wait for Shazam to send a text with the title and artist.) Since then, it has been downloaded more than 500 million times and used to identify some 30 million songs, making it one of the most popular apps in the world. It has also helped set off a revolution in the recording industry. While most users think of Shazam as a handy tool for identifying unfamiliar songs, it offers music executives something far more valuable: an early-detection system for hits.

A fascinating article about technology in the music industry with a nice mix of history, psychology, and business analysis.

(Via Matt Mullenweg)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Exacting, Expansive Mind of Christopher Nolan   


Gideon Lewis-Kraus, writing for The New York Times Magazine:

Nolan, whose eight movies over 14 years have together generated just more than $3.5 billion in revenue, puts an extraordinary amount of time and effort into engineering believably ample worlds. He tries to build maps the size of the territory, whole cities from the ground up in disused airship hangars (as he’s done for four of his movies at a former R.A.F. facility outside London), even if he’s going to shoot just a few street-corner scenes. Sue Kroll, the president of worldwide marketing for Warner Bros., told me she once got actually lost in the ersatz rain falling on an ersatz Gotham. Nolan learned the value of such sweep from Ridley Scott. The genius of “Blade Runner,” he told me, is that “you never feel like you’ve gotten close to the edge of the world.”

Christopher Nolan has been my favourite director for some time. I think a big reason for that is his extensive use of IMAX film and his ability to create stunning visual effects from real props rather than relying on computer-generated graphics. If you haven’t watched the bonus material accompanying his films, you should – I was shocked to learn just how many of the scenes in his films rely on live-action stunts rather than green-screens. The flipping tractor-trailer in The Dark Knight, the train running down the middle of a street in Inception, and the Batpod are a few examples.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

N.J. Lottery Missing Goals With Private Operator   


Elise Young, reporting for Bloomberg:

Northstar New Jersey Lottery Group’s revenue fell short $24 million in the year ended June 30, even after Governor Chris Christie let the company cut the target. Lottery collections, the state’s fourth-largest revenue source, were down 9.2 percent from July 1 through Oct. 31. The forecast calls for annual growth of 7.4 percent.

Christie, a second-term Republican considering a 2016 run for president, said in 2013 that a private operator would help the state as tax collections fell short, and he defied opposition from Democrats and unions representing lottery workers. The sole-bidder contract included a $120 million upfront payment to the state.

While the private lottery operator has been in place for only a year and the promised benefits are to be realized over the course of a 15-year contract, this is looking like a short-sighted deal. Relying on a sole bidder certainly doesn’t win any good governance points either.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

High-Efficiency Washers Put Soap Companies in Spin Cycle   


Lauren Coleman-Lochner, writing for Bloomberg:

After buying a high-efficiency washing machine, Stephen Asbel found that adding his usual amount of detergent turned his family’s clothes into a sudsy mess. So he cut back on it. And then cut back some more.

The experience is typical of people who own the new washers, and it’s bad news for detergent companies such as Procter & Gamble Co. (PG) and Church & Dwight Co., which are already struggling with declining sales. Their product — once lavished onto clothes with overflowing capfuls — is no longer needed in the same quantities.